During Al Gore's Campaign back in 2000, we raised and spent close to $100 million (with matching funds) to win the primary, then received about $60 million in government funds for the fall campaign to get out our vote.
All political campaigns are expensive enterprises, especially presidential campaigns. In addition to paying for staff, consultants, rents, transportation, food, paraphernalia, transportation, office supplies, mailings, and television, print and radio ads, there are unanticipated costs due to compliance with federal election laws.
Now, 12 years later, Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, has raised a little more than $200 million by itself to spend on television and radio advertising. It's only one of 363 registered super PACs. Beginning this month in key swing states, Rove's brainchild will unleash a blitzkrieg campaign on behalf of Mitt Romney and the GOP against President Obama. The ads will be depressingly destructive, toxic and virulent.
Of all the super PACs -- and President Obama's allies have a few -- Karl Rove's is the biggest and meanest. His super PAC spent one-third of the total paid for all ads aired during the 2010 election.
Rove, the GOP's premiere political strategist, proudly claims credit for perfecting the highly partisan, confrontational, give-not-an-inch politics we've seen out of Congress for the last six years. Today, he's setting his sights on destroying President Obama's personal approval ratings -- by attempting to paint this certified centrist president as a radical, left-leaning firebrand out of step with mainstream American values.
Brace yourselves, dear readers: The most destructive ad campaign in American history is under way. The vast majority of ads are aimed at our president, but soon a fair number will be aimed at Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee. Rove, a master of using candidates' strengths against them, will likely unleash a barrage of negative and misleading ads. Too bad we don't have any referees to call fouls before the political footballs start flying on a TV set near you.
An ABC/Washington Post poll discovered that Americans are aware of the super PACs -- and they don't like them. Seven out of 10 Americans -- 69 percent, a bipartisan majority -- want super PACS to be outlawed.
But, they're not going away. We all know why: Super PACS can be wickedly effective.
"We came into Florida with a 24-point gap," yet made the primary "too close to call," Newt Gingrich's super PAC adviser, Rick Tyler, said to Roll Call in January. However, even as Tyler was speaking, Romney's super PAC was out-spending Gingrich's 4 to 1; Romney won Florida by 14 points.
A very, very small minority will control the political commercials in the 2012 election. These people aren't just the 1 percent, wealthiest Americans. According to researchers, they "are the 0.000063 percent of the electorate who will shape the 2012 campaign on both sides of the aisle."
In 2010, the Supreme Court, in a split decision that overturned two previous rulings of the court, paved the way for the creation of super PACs. Until the court's Citizens United ruling, unlimited corporate campaign donations were illegal. Much of the Watergate scandal centered on the Nixon campaign's violations and its acceptance of secret, massive corporate donations. We've turned the clock back to then.
In fact, some of the money raisers for the super PACs learned their skills while raising Nixon's secret contributions. In his Citizens United decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way." But there's limited disclosure. Obama attempted to pass legislation requiring disclosure of Super PAC campaign donors, but it failed in the Senate, with every Republican voting against it.
Romney famously said, "Corporations are people." Hence, I guess, they are entitled to unlimited free speech, even when they can buy the forum for the speech (TV) and you can't.
Blogger Stina McClintock made me laugh with a comment that she wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. Supreme Court extended its "corporations are humans" concept to "partnerships, associations, special purpose entities and other types of legal entities. This ruling would thereby force us to count each Kardashian (with their multitude of businesses) three times over for census purposes."
Two things about Super PACs scare me to death. One is that a weary, spent public will grow increasingly cynical about our political leaders, thanks to ads that portray them as having "666" imprinted on their foreheads. The second is that super PAC commercials, with their increasingly coarse public dialogue, will create a rising river of resentment that will drown out an honest discussion of differing goals.
Harry Truman called politics "a noble art." It is just that. It requires a strong, noble spirit to lead a nation of 300 million diverse individuals, and to forge common goals for its advancement. But the narrative of these super PAC ads is that no one is worthy of the public's trust.
These ads are undermining the public's faith in our democracy and creating an artificial river of resentment.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator.